This week’s Mummy Monday has been the focus of a small museum in Pennsylvania for almost 90 years! Meet Nefrina, the mummy located at the Reading Public Museum in Reading Pennsylvania!
Nefrina (phonetically spelled Nfr-ii-n) was an Egyptian woman during the Ptolemaic Period of Ancient Egypt. Her name could be translated as, “May our comings be good,” or “It is a good thing that has come to us.” She lived in the town of Akhmin with her parents and brother, Nesmin. Her father’s name was Irethourrou (Irt-Hr-r-w) and he held honored titles as the keeper of the god’s wardrobe in the temple of the Egyptian god Min. That meant that he took care of dressing the cult statue, which was a ritual that needed to be done every day. Her mother’s name was Irtyrou (Ir(ty)-r-w) and she was a housemistress and a sistrum player for the god of Min.
It is not clear why Nefrina herself did not hold a title, but it can be presumed that she worked with her family in the temple of Min. She died when she was about 25 years old around 275 B.C.E.
Provenance and Display at the Reading Public Museum
The exact provenience of Nefrina is not known, but it is more than likely that she was buried in Akhmin. The University of Pennsylvania acquired her in 1839, though I could find no details on this transaction or if the mummy went on display within their museum.
In 1930, the University loaned the mummy to the Reading Public Museum, where Nefrina became a permanent installation in 1949 (1930.318.3). During her stay in Reading, she was x-rayed in 1972, CAT scanned in 2003, and received a facial reconstruction in 2006 by forensic artist Frank Bender, the results of which I will talk about below.
Here is a video about her original display at the Reading Public Museum called Nefrina’s World.
This past year, the original exhibit got some serious upgrades along with the rest of their Ancient Civilization Gallery. Installation started in early September of 2020 and was opened in late September. They worked with Egyptologist Melinda Hartwig from the Carlos Museum at Emory University on a special project. They created a hologram of Nefrina who welcomes visitors and tells the story of her life. Dr. Hartwig ensured that her appearance and narrative were historically accurate, and an actress was chosen based on her likeness from the facial reconstruction created in 2006.
Here is a series of short videos from Neo Pangea, the designers of the new Nefrina exhibit.
Coffin and Mask
Nefrina is kept in one coffin which is painted black with a gold face. Text can be read along the legs of her coffin, which describes her family and includes spells to help her to the afterlife. The gold on her face is indicative of the Egyptian belief that the gods had the skin of gold. It is also an indicator of her family’s high status in Akhmin. This was an elaborate burial that was typical for the upper class.
On top of her mummy, there are several cartonnage pieces. These were typical of this era and were just an extra decorative and protective layer. They depict a broad collar, wedjats (eyes of Horus), the four sons of Horus, the goddess Nut, and other winged goddesses. There are also two depictions of a mummy sitting on a platform and a bed, which are supposed to depict her own coffin. A piece of cartonnage at her feet depict two feet wearing golden sandals, though there is damage in this area.
It is unclear when the wrappings around her face were unwrapped, but the mask used to be placed over these wrappings. Funerary masks were meant to be an idealized representation of the deceased and were usually made of cartonnage. In 2011, the mask was sent to the Penn Museum Conservation lab to be repaired and conserved. It had been stabilized for photography in 1993, but these masks are prone to damage because of the various layers of cartonnage. They stabilized and realigned the tears, compensated for the structural losses, and stabilized and filled any cracks. You can read more about the process here, here, and here.
As I said previously, the only portion of the mummy that is unwrapped is her face. But through x-rays and CT scans, scholars were able to determine that she mostly died from complications from a broken hip. She suffered from a right hip fracture which could be seen on the x-rays and CT scan. Interestingly, a poultice bag was inserted near the fracture site when she was mummified. This indicates that the wound was not healed when she died and that the bag was intended to heal her in the afterlife.
These scans also revealed that her organs were removed, mummified, and then packed into the torso. And she had false wooden ears, which is a rarity and not fully understood.
Again here is her facial reconstruction made in 2006.
Reconstruction and mask – Mummipedia page
Photo of the old exhibit – https://www.wfmz.com/news/area/berks/reading-museums-famous-mummy-to-come-to-life-as-hologram/article_ce9573fe-d724-11ea-904c-2bd293761f18.html
The new exhibit – https://berksweekly.com/arts-entertainment/annual-night-at-the-museum-explores-ancient-egypt-with-modern-technology/
Conservation photos – Penn Museum Conservation Lab
Mummy – https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/ptolemaic-mummy-and-sarcophagus-of-nefrina-nefer-ii-ne-unknown/oAFh6pqY1fGC9A
Coffin and face – Reading Public Museum